I was going through Google Analytics and I noticed this interview, which was originally published on the PlayItLoud Music blog in late 2011, had popped up again as a traffic source. I started to read through it and while it’s certainly a long read, there is a lot that I feel like could still help a lot of musicians seeking out PR for the first time. Enjoy!
Ariel Hyatt is the founder of Cyber PR, a boutique digital marketing firm based in Brooklyn. Their Cyber PR® Campaigns help musicians to identify their Signature Story and achieve feature placements on niche blogs, podcasts, and Internet radio stations.
Her book Music Success in Nine Weeks has helped over a thousand musicians get in control of their online strategies and her ongoing blogging challenges keep artists accountable through the reading process.
Interviewing Ariel was a real pleasure. Her passion for and her knowledge of the music business is more than apparent in her answers. Before interviewing Ariel, I made a point of reading her book “Music Success in Nine Weeks”. I am usually skeptical about anything that suggests success in just a few weeks but after reading Ariel’s book I can truly say that it is a very valuable tool. If you follow her steps you will be well on your way to success. Thanks again Ariel for answering my questions and sharing some valuable information on this business of music.
Aaron Bethune, PlayItLoud Music.
How did you get started in the music and entertainment industry?
I got started in the music business, basically when I graduated from university. I did what all good, self-respecting children should do and moved back into my family’s apartment in New York City with my less-than-excited parents.
My mom is a career counsellor and she said to me, “What would you love to do?” I said I would love to be in the music business. So she said, okay, go be in the music business, and I started a very, very humbling job search that took me to many, many dead-ends.
Finally, I ended up with a couple of things: I worked at WNEW FM radio as the associate producer to the morning show, which basically means paid intern for $69 a week. Then I worked at a big music PR firm, Kathryn Schenker and Associates, and I also worked at night at a record store in Manhattan called NYCD. So I actually had 3 jobs.
I had a dream to be living in Boulder, Colorado, as I had completed one semester of school there, and if you’ve ever been there, you’d understand why. It’s completely amazing. A dear friend of mine had read in a local newspaper, back when people actually did that, that there was a little record label from New York City that was relocating to Boulder.
He clipped out the article and sent it to me, saying that I needed to get a job there. So I marched into this record label and of course, they offered an unpaid internship, which I took; I worked my butt off and got hired a few weeks later. I worked there for a year and relocated with them to Boulder.
From there, I moved on to a concert promotions company, which was great, and then I started my own business. By the time I started my own business, at the ripe age of 23, I had worked in many areas of the music industry – corporate radio, in an indie record store, a high profile public relations firm (representing Sting, Bob Dylan, and Tina Turner), at a very successful independent record label, and at concert promotion company. Plus I had interned at two of the most respected PR agencies in the fashion world throughout college (KCD & Lynne Franks Limited). So I had a nice rounded experience and understanding of many different facets of the music and the PR business.
What is PR?
I asked the same question on the first day of my first internship at a PR firm in London. I’ll never forget the answer the guy gave me. I was 19 years old, it was my first internship, and I said, “Can you tell me what PR is?” He said,
“PR? It’s PR!”
I thought, “Wow. Thank you for that.”
You can imagine that internship was a disaster from that moment on. Anyway, the process of PR is the communication of a product, a good, a service, or a person, to the media.
So when you hire a publicist, you’re basically hiring a mouthpiece to communicate to the media world your message or what it is you would like to promote. Until I started working in PR firms, I really didn’t understand the depth of how PR touches almost everything you read in the media. For example, if you’re a woman who likes fashion magazines, when you pull open a magazine and you see “Our favourite shampoo of the month”, or “Our favourite lip-gloss”, or “The best pants to wear this season”, that is all 100% work of a publicist. The editor did not go walk around to find the best anything. The publicist worked very, very hard with the editor to place the product. Every facet of almost every business has publicity – politicians, products, goods, services – almost everything you can think of. Stores, cities, towns, and of course, musicians all have publicists. When you hire a publicist, what you are doing is hiring someone to represent you to the media. When I say the media, I mean newspapers, magazines, television, radio and now it’s been the vastly expanded in recent years to blogs, podcasts, internet radio, almost anything. So that is, in a nutshell, what it is.
What is viral marketing and how does it affect the music business?
Viral marketing is an interesting term, because, you can’t really make something “go viral”; it is near impossible to do. We don’t know what could go viral. For example think about the Double Rainbow video, that got over 23 million views on YouTube in 2010 or almost anything that gets a ton of hits – maybe people create those things hoping they “go viral” but the truth is ‘viral like a virus, just spreads.
We don’t say “I’d like to get a virus today,” you just get a cold. It catches.
Viral marketing is the practice of working with unique assets like videos or music, or blog posts. It could also be products in the real world but because I’m an internet publicist, I’m speaking about the online world.
Viral marketing is something that gets put on the internet and it catches on and takes off. It gets multiple views and when it goes viral, it just means there’s some sort of stickiness attached to it. We never know if it’s going to go viral: certainly there are some predictors but there are no guarantees. Almost every time I interview artists, if I say “If you had $500 to spend, what would you do?’’ The most popular answer is: “I would hire someone to make me go viral.” I wish it were that simple.
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 is what they started calling the semantic web, although I don’t think that took off so well. It’s the internet in its current iteration. Web 1.0 is the internet as we used to know it. Different websites would be very predictable things; if you went to someone’s website – any website – whether it was for a band, or for a product, you would see a page, probably an image, “About Us, History, Contact Us, Our Mission,” basically a catalogue experience. Any website you went to at the beginning of the internet looked like that.
With the advent of Web 2.0, two-way conversations started to be present on platforms. So you could leave comments, you could link to Facebook and Twitter Feeds. Web 2.0 is basically the evolving internet made possible by new interactive platforms being invented and the fact that broadband is now widely available.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary to know what Web 2.0 is to be successful but the conversation about the emerging internet is very interesting. Now people are talking about Web 3.0, a more predictable experience, more interactive, more intuitive, easier to use etc.
How important is a band’s pitch?
I believe a pitch is the most important thing a band or artist can develop.
Without a pitch, people will have no context for understanding who you are or what you sound like. Unfortunately, many bands are terrible at creating pitches. It’s critical because we have very, very short attention spans in today’s world. If you don’t have a concise pitch that gives people an instant hit, you’re basically robbing yourself of possibilities.
What makes for a good pitch?
Something that’s extremely descriptive and catchy; descriptive doesn’t mean you have to sound like somebody else, though that’s a very helpful context. Catchy could be anything from fun, like hillbilly-flamenco, or poly-ethnic Cajun-slam-grass, or it could be really descriptive like Joan Jett meets Jessica Rabbit. Those are three of my favourite pitches, they’re in my book because they are really good. If I was in an elevator with Devil Doll and I asked her “what kind of music do you make,” and she answered “it’s Joan Jett meets Jessica Rabbit,” that’s dead on. She’s a rocker who’s got a really sexy, curvy look. A pitch like that, a short concise piece, is crucial.
Bands are normally terrified, they don’t want to say they sound like anybody, they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. It really is a disservice to try to invent a new genre of music to explain what you are. It may feel creative, but people don’t understand it.
What are the most important social sites that bands should be a part of?
I think if you ignore Facebook and Twitter, you’re crazy. It’s important to have those sites in your reach. Of course, there are other sites that could be very effective as well, for your genre, but those are two you should absolutely use and use well.
In today’s music business, how do you think a band can best get through or above the noise?
That’s a tough question. There is so much noise. What I preach, and what I think is really effective is engagement. Engaging people online starts with understanding your audience. People want to feel connected. If you’re just speaking at people and you’re not speaking with people, they’ll go elsewhere for that connection.
So, to rise above the noise… first of all, of course, this is all predicated on having really good music, so don’t suck. Work on your music, don’t just put anything out there. I see that all too often – people think just because they have a home studio, they have a right. Just because it’s easy to post on social media sites, that doesn’t mean you should. Be thoughtful, that’s the first step in rising above the noise. Just because I have a digital camera doesn’t mean I should take 3000 pictures and post them on Flickr. If I take 3000 pictures and I edited them down to 5 that were really stunning, and people saw them and appreciated them, that’s a good start. So, have great music – that’s the cornerstone.
Then the next piece is make connections. How do you do that? That’s really based on understanding your audience and that’s critical. There are million articles and books about how to do that but I also think you can get out there and play live. Connect with people and never squander an opportunity. Every day is an opportunity to connect with people, and that means if you’re playing a live show, get your butt behind your merchandise table and sign. I don’t care if you sign free postcards, or give away stickers – talk with people, connect with them. The most successful artists I know today who are making money and I’m not talking about Mick Jagger, but independent artists that are making it on their own – they take the time to connect personally with their fans.
What are some good ways to get people to sign up for a newsletter?
When people are considering signing up to a newsletter, which most people are not excited to do because we all get too much email, it’s not only about just getting people to sign up, it’s about making sure that when they do sign up, you’re giving them an amazing experience. I think that piece we forget. We’re so busy worrying about “get me names! I want names,” we forget that it was really important to have great content.
First, make sure you’re building a newsletter that has great content, then second make sure it’s going out regularly, consistently, and that it’s trackable (meaning you can pull up statistics on how effective it is). Whenever anyone is thinking of joining a mailing list, they’re thinking “What’s in it for me?” So you have to make sure you’re providing good content for them, make sure that you’re giving away music, make sure you’re doing something that’s interesting. So always think when you’re asking people to sign up, “what can I give?” Be generous. Giving away one track for a newsletter signup is probably not going to get you far. But if you give away three plus a video, then there’s something in that for a potential fan or a loyal fan already.
What should a band not do while trying to succeed in this business?
Don’t be impatient. It’s hard when you’re talking about your art: we want it now. I’ve definitely felt that way, and I’m not a band, I’m on the other side of it. Don’t be inflexible. Don’t be lazy. I like equating succeeding in the music business with succeeding at losing weight. I think every band should look at themselves as completely obese people. If you weigh 350lbs and your goal is to be a strapping healthy weight, that means you probably have to lose 150 lbs. That doesn’t happen overnight, that takes sheer dedication and effort. There are no shortcuts in the music business. You’re going to have to get up at 6 in the morning, go to the gym, do your cardio, lift your weights, eat well and you have to do that for a long time.
That’s really what it takes. I don’t know any artist that has been in the music business a long time that isn’t experiencing some level of success. That doesn’t exist. What you focus on expands. If you focus on being successful in the music industry, you will succeed. It’s really that simple. But that’s not easy information for most people.
The average is about seven years. That is depressing – 7 years. When you look at all these artists that have supposed meteor rises to the top –they didn’t. If you go back and look, they gigged and gigged, and failed many times along the way but they all worked hard for many years to get there.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen, and what are some of the changes that you foresee in the music business?
Obviously the biggest changes I’ve seen, which is why I adapted my company, is the rise of social media, the two-way conversations online, online promotions, and marketing. All that is only going to get bigger, and it’s never going to go away. That’s the bad news. You will never be done with your internet marketing, never. Staying malleable and adaptable is the true key there. Technology will continue to expand our horizons. It’s all about staying on top of it, or at least in it.
You’re focusing a lot on the PR and online side of things. Realistically, what percentage of an artist’s career is in the marketing and the online presence, what you were talking about in your book, and what % is left in the music and its performance live… where’s the money?
There’s money in placements in film and TV, in live music, in bundling merchandise. There are fewer places to get it, but if you go to a spectacular show and the artist moves you and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and you’re going to walk out of that show with a CD. Of course, there is still a profit center there. I think that many artists have gotten really smart: they’re looking at diversifying, some artists teach piano lessons, some artists conduct church choirs, and some artists do other things that are music related – vocal lessons, etc. There are a lot of ways to make money from music, that’s not about making your own original music and selling it.
What’s the percentage? Some people say it is 50% music, 50% business….
I’ve heard an even more painful statistic: to really win at business, you have to spend 30% of your time working in the business and 70% of the time working on the marketing of the business. Telling that to a musician is blasphemy. They don’t want to hear that.
I don’t think that you have to do that all the time, but to really succeed you better understand that locking yourself in your basement and just writing music, which of course is critical to your craft, is only one side of what you need to do to succeed, and the other side really has a lot to do with getting the word out there and making sure that you have gigs and making sure you have everything else, all your ducks in a row. It’s an extremely painful lesson, unfortunately. Yes, 50% is a good percentage, but 70% is an even better percentage. If there is 5 people in a band, I see this all the time, there seems to be one person doing all the business work and everybody else just gets to show up. That’s a recipe for total disaster.
What is a realistic time-frame for a PR campaign to show results?
Depends on the type of results you are looking for. If you’re talking about a traditional PR campaign in major publications these are known in the PR-world as “long-lead press,” (Spin and Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair) that means you have to begin thinking about your press placement at least three months before the issue comes out. So for Christmas press you must have your Christmas tracks ready to go at the end of August, and your publicist should be lining up your Christmas pitches for long-lead press by September. This takes planning and foresight and I have met a lot of artists who don’t think this far in advance. Of course, for daily and weekly newspapers, there is a shorter window. If you’re promoting a live event in a local newspaper, the editor needs a minimum of 4-6 week’s notice to schedule you in. They have to get interviews and artwork and they are getting inundated by hundreds of other publicists and events that month, no matter what city you are playing in, so again: Planning and foresight are key.
With the internet, it’s very fast and can be instantaneous. Blogs are looking for information quickly and efficiently. We’ve released MP3s on a Monday and by Tuesday there are internet radio stations streaming, blogs posting, and people sharing it all over the social networks. So when you talk about an online PR campaign that’s a whole different beast.